Government considered sinking Asgard

The Government considered sinking the historic Asgard yacht at sea after buying it as an icon of the State’s foundation, official files reveal.

The Government considered sinking the historic Asgard yacht at sea after buying it as an icon of the State’s foundation, official files reveal.

The Defence Minister in 1976 Paddy Donegan, who had responsibility for the famous gun-running boat, wanted it scuttled because he thought it too expensive to restore.

Some 15 years earlier, the Government spent IR£5,850 (€7,427) of taxpayers’ money purchasing the Asgard.

The boat was used by Erskine Childers, father of the fourth Irish President, to ship arms into Ireland used in the 1916 rising.

State papers, just released into the National Archives, show that the Government 30 years ago was split over what to do with the vessel.

It had been bought as a training boat but a committee set up by the Fine Gael and Labour coalition at the time was tasked with deciding on its future as it was no longer seaworthy.

In an official memorandum from the time, Mr Donegan recommends it be sunk rather than alternative options of preserving it at a suitable museum.

“The Minister for Defence considers that, if a permanent arrangement were to be made for the preservation of Asgard, the vessel should be located at Howth,” it states.

“He feels, however, that it would be inexpedient at this time to make permanent arrangements for the preservation and exhibition of the vessel at Howth.

“It would also be extremely expensive.

“The minister accordingly recommends, for the approval of the Government, that Asgard should be ’buried’ at sea with appropriate ceremony, Mrs Childers and the Childers family being presented beforehand with any part or parts of the vessel which she or they may wish to retain.”

However, then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and Cabinet colleagues demanded Mr Donegan row back from the plans over fears of a public outcry.

“The Department of the Taoiseach has stated that the symbolic and traditional nature of such a ’burial’ would not be sufficiently widely appreciated to offset the severe criticism from cultural and historical bodies, as well as from the public at large, at what would be regarded as an act of destruction,” the official memo states.

“Permanent preservation of the vessel is favoured and it is considered that preservation should be for the positive purpose of exhibition rather than the negative purpose of storage, especially if this can be done at little or no cost to the State.”

Mr Donegan’s proposal was overruled and the yacht lay in Kilmainham Jail for many years before a botched attempt by a voluntary group to refloat it saw it pass once again into State ownership.

It is now undergoing a massive restoration at the National Museum at Collins Barracks.

Its eventual successor as the State sail training vessel, Asgard II, sank last year in the Bay of Biscay off western France in an incident still being investigated.

Childers, who also wrote the famous spy thriller 'The Riddle Of The Sands', brought guns onboard the original Asgard ashore at Howth, north Co Dublin, in 1914 for the Irish Volunteers.

They were used in the Easter Rising two years later, which helped pave the way to the establishment of the Irish Republic.

But Childers was later executed by the then Free State Government after falling out with former comrades during the Civil War.

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